South Fulton under COVID-19 curfew; 5 council members self-quarantine

Members of the South Fulton City Council are self-quarantining due to the coronavirus. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Members of the South Fulton City Council are self-quarantining due to the coronavirus. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

The city of South Fulton’s leaders have placed what appears to be Georgia’s first coronavirus-related curfew on its businesses and 100,000 residents.

City Council approved the curfew Tuesday night and made it effective immediately and until further notice. It bars anyone from leaving their homes between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m., unless for work or medical purposes.

The curfew also bans gatherings of 10 or more people.

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“I know some people are angry,” Mayor Bill Edwards told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday, “but I’d rather you be inconvenienced and angry than sick.”

Edwards said the move will hopefully slow the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. City leaders are worried about South Fulton’s sizable population of seniors, who could be prone to serious cases of the deadly virus.

During Tuesday’s council meeting, discussion of the curfew was put on hold for several minutes so the city attorney could draft the curfew ordinance in the middle of the meeting. She then emailed it to council members.

Like with other elected boards trying to meet online for the first time, South Fulton's teleconference meeting did not go well.

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“This is ridiculous,” said Council woman Helen Z. Willis, “This is an embarrassment to the city. We can’t have this happen again … this meeting violated a lot of our rights.”

Edwards and Khalid Kamau were the only two council members who physically attended the meeting. That’s because a city spokesman said five members might have been exposed to coronavirus and are in self-quarantine.

Edwards said he, along with council members Helen Z. Willis and Corey Reeves, attended the National League of Cities' Congressional City Conference 2020 in Washington, D.C. from March 8-11. The National League of Cities published an online letter Tuesday saying that two people tested positive for COVID-19. The letter said the two people "attended general sessions and workshops."

READ | Fulton schools: Coronavirus closure likely to stretch through Spring Break

When the AJC asked the League Wednesday who else from Georgia attended the conference, League spokeswoman Lauren Sinclair said that it is their practice not to release that information. When asked who from the city went to the conference, city spokesman Gary Leftwich said, “I’m not able to elaborate on who attended.”

Edward said he has a normal cold, but that he was in self-quarantine with Willis and Reeves.

“They will all attend telemedicine conferences and must comply with the recommendations of the telemedicine physician. If they develop symptoms, it is recommended they go to the hospital. If they show no symptoms after the quarantine period, they will attend a follow-up call with the telemedicine physician to receive clearance,” Leftwich said.

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When asked why he attended the meeting Tuesday with Kamau and high-level staff — the city manager, the police chief and the city attorney — Edwards said: “I don’t have any big symptoms.”

All future South Fulton city meetings have been canceled because of the curfew.

Police Chief Keith Meadows told the AJC on Wednesday he has instructed his staff to give the public a 48-hour grace period, and enforcement for the first week will target businesses.

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“Once the businesses are closed, that’ll drive a majority of people indoors,” he said.

Meadows said he hopes to do more education than enforcement. When asked what is the punishment for breaking curfew, he said he didn’t know and would have to work that out with the municipal courts.

Councilman Mark Baker said at the meeting he was worried that the curfew infringes on the right of residents to assemble.

“I don’t want people to panic and think we’re creating this police state in South Fulton,” Meadows told the AJC.

Officials at Piedmont said they are already having to ration critical supplies.